“I Saw a New World a’comin’”                                                        July 15, 2012

Psalm 24 & Ephesians 1:3-14                                                          Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   There’s some debate as to whether or not Paul actually wrote the Letter to the Ephesians and at this point in my life I no longer care about that debate.

A.    There are many other matters that I do care about and one thing I do care about is the vision that is offered in this passage of scripture.

1.     Whoever wrote the letter, I’ll call him Paul, is in prison and in that difficult setting he still has faith and hope.

2.     He provides the scattered churches in Asia Minor a vision for the uniting of all things in Christ.

3.     I think that’s a great vision.

4.     So great is this vision that absolutely nothing is left out for the writer foresees a cosmic event that encompasses all of heaven and earth.

5.     The glory of God will be revealed through the forgiveness and grace and redemption offered in Christ Jesus.

6.     If you’ve ever wondered what the phrase “Jesus saves” means then an explanation can be found in this passage of scripture.

II.                 As we consider this matter of Jesus bringing salvation to the entire world and to the universe, perhaps a way to set this up is to make use of three famous questions asked by the great philosopher Immanuel Kant as found in his most important book Critique of Pure Reason.

A.    In that book Kant categorized the human condition as a search for answers to three basic questions and those questions are: What can I know? What ought I to do? For what may I hope?

1.     Indeed those are three profound questions and regarding the last, “For what may I hope?” Kant said that the shape of our hope is determined by the way we live.

2.     His point is that hope precedes what we know and what we do.

3.     Generally before we know something or act on it we have experienced some hope that it will occur.

4.     Theologians such as Will Willimon and others have concluded that salvation is the name for Christian hope (Pulpit Resource, p. 2, July 15, 2012).

5.     What we hope for is to be saved.

6.     The word salvation for us Christians means experiencing a state of being in a time and in a place where we are brought close to God (Pulpit Resource, p. 2, July 15, 2012).

B.     Now, you may think that there is no way given some of the things you’ve done in life that you could be brought close to God and you’re feeling hopeless, but let me share with you a story by Lutheran pastor Jamie Strickler from Des Moines, Iowa, about a man named John whom Pastor Strickler met while he was serving as a chaplain in a homeless shelter and you can decide if your story is more hopeless than this one.

1.     John was a huge man who stood 6’6” and weighed 250 lbs.

2.     John’s hands were bigger than Pastor Stickler’s whole head.

3.     John had come to Des Moines in a rather unique way.

4.     He was involved in drugs and gang violence in Chicago and a rival gang had committed an act of aggression against his group.

5.     The rival gang members had fled to Des Moines to hide and John was sent by his gang to find them and to take them out.

6.     You see, John was a hit man.

7.     Pastor Stickler says that when John was telling him all this that he decided that he never wanted to do anything to make John mad at him.

8.     However, Pastor Stickler took scripture seriously and had a solid theology so he viewed John as a child of God and considered him to be redeemed through the blood of Christ which is what we are told in verse 7 of our reading today from Ephesians.

9.     In keeping with our Methodist theology which believes that the Holy Spirit will work on a person before that person even realizes what is happening, John had an idea come into his head as he was traveling to Des Moines to whack these rival gang members.

10.             The idea that kept going through his mind was that he, John the hit man, had been claimed by Christ for the Kingdom of Heaven.

11.             This had a profound effect on him and he had a change of heart.

12.             He decided to give his intended victims a pass and the result was that he was now in hiding in the mission to get away from his own people.

C.     Pastor Strickler decided to ask John if he’d be willing to enter the S.T.E.P. Program offered by the mission, S.T.E.P. stood for Spiritual Training and Evaluation Program.

1.     It was a 30 day program where participants were given Biblical lessons to read and to learn.

2.     Participants were breathalyzed every time they entered the building and those in the program were separated from others who stayed in the mission dormitory.

3.     If they stayed clean for 30 days they were then transferred to another program run by Hope Ministries that was called The Door of Faith where they spent the next 18-24 months in a recovery program.

4.     On the evening of day 30 within just a few hours of being clean for the required amount of time John showed up in Pastor Strickler’s office totally high.

5.     He had sabotaged himself and asked Strickler to look the other way by allowing him to use clean urine he had purchased to place in the test receptacle.

6.     Strickler wouldn’t and tried to convince John to talk with the pastor in charge of the S.T.E.P. Program and ask for mercy and grace but John refused.

7.     Before John left Strickler was able to give him a rock with an inscription of a cross on it and told him to stand firm in his faith.

D.    Six months passed before Strickler saw John again.

1.     Hanging his head he returned to Strickler’s office and recounted what he had done during those six months.

2.     He began “I went back to Chicago to face the music with my gang and I got jumpted out.”

3.     Jumpted out is a term that means you got the crap kicked out of you by the whole gang as punishment for failing to do what you were told to do – in this case, to go kill a bunch of people.

4.     After that John found his old girlfriend and stayed with her but she was a drug user and the temptation was so great that he got back into drugs going from pot to crack to heroin.

5.     Finally John got so bad that his girlfriend kicked him out and everything became a blur, but two days later he woke up in an alley, beat up and tired with a needle still stuck in his arm.

6.     John said, “There was a trail of blood from the needle down to a puddle in my hand and in my hand was this.”

7.     And John held up the rock Pastor Strickler had given him.

8.     Then John added “And in my other hand was a bus ticket to Des Moines. I’m here now and I want you to do something for me.”

E.     What was John going to ask of him, Pastor Strickler wondered?

1.     The next second John looked Pastor Strickler in the eye and made his request, “Tell me how to completely surrender to Christ.”

2.     You see John had surrendered many times over many years to many demons and those surrenders were killing him.

3.     They had taken the life out of him.

4.     Now he wanted to surrender to Jesus and in so doing to find life.

5.     So their conversation basically followed the words of the old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

 

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

 

6.     Of course there was a lot more to the conversation but that day John and Pastor Strickler took John’s burdens to the Lord in prayer and John left his old gang of friends behind and walked out with his new friend Jesus.

F.     The journey after that wasn’t always smooth but a year later Pastor Strickler heard that John was clean and was living a new life.

1.     He was working in a ministry setting giving hope and assistance to others so that they might overcome their addiction to drugs and to leave their old friends for a new friend named Jesus.

III.              I don’t read a lot of Immanuel Kant but I do think his three questions: “What can I know? What ought I to do? For what may I hope?” are good questions and today I’ve focused on the third because I think so many people in the world need hope.

A.    The hope I would offer is described and explained in our New Testament lesson for today.

1.     It’s salvation which is being brought close to God and I think that’s what our friend Jesus does.

B.     And I think since Jesus acts that way that he wants us to be that way – to be friends with others in his name and in keeping with his ways.

1.     The other day I read a newspaper account of a woman who had raised twelve children eleven of whom were foster children she had adopted, all of whom had special needs.

2.     The newspaper reporter asked her how she, in her limited circumstances, dared to attempt such a thing. What led her to adopt all of these children?

3.     She responded, “I saw a new world a’comin’ (Pulpit Resources, p. 3, July 15, 2012).”

C.     That guy in prison who wrote Ephesians whom I call Paul, and Pastor Strickler, and the woman who adopted all those special needs children did so because despite their circumstances they had hope.

1.     I think they had hope because they saw a new world a’comin’.

2.     They offered that hope in the form of their friend Jesus and John and those adopted children found themselves in the presence of God which according to Ephesians is salvation.

3.     Friends don’t keep hope to themselves especially when others are suffering and there is plenty of suffering in this world.

4.     But a lot of good can come from that because (and there is no argument that Paul wrote this), “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (in the saving presence of God) through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

5.     Amen.